Okay, let's not beat around the bush. Let's not ignore the "white elephant" in the room. Let's not tap dance around the subject. Let's even avoid the usual preseason coach-speak.
Let's just say it. Why, even University of Memphis head coach John Calipari even referenced it following the Tigers' NCAA Tournament Elite Eight loss to Ohio State last March.
When asked about his name linked to other jobs during the usual postseason coaching carrousel, the Tiger mentor hinted there may be better jobs than the one he has, but ...
"There may not be a better team in the country than the one I have coming back next year."
Well, next year is now this year, and Tiger Nation's buzz, anticipation, excitement - call it whatever you want - is growing as each passing day brings the 2007-08 campaign closer. And why not?
The Tigers return all five starters and 10 lettermen from its 2006-07 squad. Furthermore, Memphis returns five players - Andre Allen, Antonio Anderson, Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Robert Dozier - with extensive NCAA Tournament postseason experience, having played huge roles in the Tigers' two runs to the Elite Eight in 2006 and 2007.
"We're excited about the opportunity," said Calipari. "We have a good group of players coming back, and they all enjoy each other. There seems to be a unique synergy with this crew.
"We want to compete every year for a national title. It doesn't mean we're going to win it every year, but we're competing for that. I think it's (being No. 1 in summer polls) a good thing for us. For other schools, it may be an added burden. For us, it's a good thing."
In the summer of 2006, Calipari and his staff were wondering how to replace two NBA first-round draft picks, another player that decided to go pro and 56 percent of the team's scoring.
Well, this summer, the Tigers didn't lose anyone early to the professional ranks, and they return 76 percent of the team's scoring, 77 percent of rebounding, 87 percent of assists, 86 percent of blocked shots and 82 percent of steals. No wonder everyone is excited about the 2007-08 campaign.
Leading the returnees is Douglas-Roberts, who nearly doubled his scoring average from his freshman year (8.3 ppg) to sophomore season (15.4 ppg). The 6-foot-7 junior guard is one of the country's best finishers around the rim, and showed over the summer at LeBron James Skills Academy that he has elevated his game to be considered among the nation's elite players. Douglas-Roberts' name has popped up on several 2007-08 preseason All-America lists, and if his strong play continues, he will vie for several postseason honors.
"I watched Chris at LeBron's summer camp where they brought in 15 of the top college basketball players, and he was as good as anybody," said Calipari. "When I watched him at the camp, I was stunned."
On the other wing is Anderson. The 6-foot-6 junior guard is "Mr. Do-It-All" for the Tigers and wears many hats on the squad. The 2006-07 collegeinsider.com Defensive All-America pick usually draws the assignment of defending the opponent's top perimeter player. His latest defensive gem was a beauty against Texas A&M's Acie Law IV, the 2007 Bob Cousy Award recipient. Law entered the game averaging over 18 points and nearly six assists a game. Anderson, who guarded Law most of the game, held the All-American to only 13 points and one assist.
Last year, Anderson also led the Tigers in assists and steals, and his ability to distribute the ball gives the Tigers another player to run the point.
Doneal Mack also returns and is expected to see most of his time backing up Douglas-Roberts and Anderson on either wing. The Charlotte, N.C., native probably made the biggest jump of any Tiger from the start to the end of last season. Mack is the Tigers' top three-point threat for 2007-08, and he hit over 40 percent from the arc last year. However, if opponents play too close to Mack, the sophomore guard can use his explosiveness to get to the basket.
Junior Chance McGrady is a third-year player that provides depth and experience in the backcourt.
The frontcourt returnees begin with the tandem of Dorsey and Dozier. Dorsey, the 2006-07 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, has shown how he can dominate the glass, and in 2007-08, the hopes are the 6-foot-9 man-child can perform consistently in both practices and games.
"He's a monster," Calipari said. "He's athletic. He can run the floor and block shots.
"He just needs to do what Joey can do. He has to understand that being Joey Dorsey is special. No other player in the country can be him. He's it." One of the nation's top defensive players, Dorsey can control the paint with his rebounding prowess and shot-blocking ability. The senior led Conference USA in rebounding at 9.4 boards per contest and was second in blocked shots at 2.1 swats per game last year.
However, what has caught the eyes of many is Dorsey's ability to defend on the perimeter. Last year, Dorsey showed his versatility with solid perimeter defense, and it showed with 53 steals, which was the second-most on the squad.
After a year of adjustment from reserve to starter, Dozier has taken his preparation level up a notch for 2007-08. Sure, Dozier made his presence known (7-foot-3 wingspan) on the floor last season, but it was when the 6-foot-9 forward wasn't in games that his importance was accentuated.
In the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Dozier got in early foul trouble versus Georgia Tech, and after digging an early hole, the Yellow Jackets used Dozier's absence (he eventually fouled out) to dominate the glass en route to the win. In the NCAA Tournament, Dozier picked up two first-half fouls versus Texas A&M, and the Aggies' big men took advantage. However, Dozier returned in the second half, and his defense and rebounding helped lead Memphis to Sweet 16 victory.
The returnees that are battling for time in the frontcourt are sophomores Hashim Bailey and Pierre Niles. Bailey returned to campus in the fall 35 pounds lighter (down to 273), and it's evident that the 6-foot-10 forward's new approach to the game will provide help for the Tigers at some time during the 2007-08 campaign. Niles, who saw action in 25 games a year ago, still needs to get in better shape to play a vital role in Memphis' season.
The deepest and most experienced position for the Tigers is at point guard. In addition to Anderson, Memphis returns Willie Kemp and Allen.
Kemp, who started 36 games a year ago, is the consummate team player and proved to Tiger Nation what the coaching staff already knew - that he is a winner. And that winner has gotten stronger for 2007-08. Kemp hit the weight room with a passion over the summer, and Calipari is raving about his sophomore from Bolivar, Tenn.
Question: Which team has the best back-up point guard in the nation? Basketball experts would be hard pressed to find any better than Allen, who has filled that role the last two years.
The 5-foot-10 Memphis native brings great energy to the floor when he enters games, and he picked his time to really shine in the Tigers' last two NCAA Tournament Elite Eight runs. In two years, Allen nearly has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (220 assists/118 turnovers).
Memphis has only three newcomers, but what a trio! It starts with the arrival of one of the top signees of the 2007 class in freshman Derrick Rose.
The Chicago, Ill., native is an explosive guard that has remarkable court vision and looks to get his teammates involved. From the summer pick-up games talk, the returning Tigers love playing with the 2007 McDonald's, Parade magazine and USA Today All-American, and they are running the floor with great purpose because they know Rose will find them.
"Derrick came down for summer school and played pick-up games with our returnees and blended in beautifully," Calipari said. "He loves it at Memphis. He's a kid that's more concerned with blending in than being 'the man.' Derrick's unassuming, and my job is to bring out the beast in him."
Another player that has impressed in the summer and fall individual workouts is sophomore Shawn Taggart, who had to sit out last year as a transfer from Iowa State. The 6-foot-10 forward also tore his right ACL prior to last year. Taggart gives the Tigers another mobile big man to work in the frontcourt rotation with Dorsey and Dozier, and also provides another body to battle against in practice.
Jeff Robinson is a player that Tiger fans can't wait to see on the court. A pure athlete, the 6-foot-5 wing expanded his game as a high school senior, and Memphis fans took notice. His explosiveness will thrive in the Tiger offensive system, and his quickness on the defensive end will make Calipari's pressure defense even more troubling for opponents.
When it comes to the 2007-08 schedule, Calipari may have outdone himself. Arizona, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Tennessee - all ranked in the summer top 25 polls - are slated to visit FedExForum. The Tigers play at Cincinnati, and has a neutral site game versus Southern Cal, another top 25 foe, in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. Memphis could also meet Oklahoma, Connecticut or Kentucky in the 2K College Hoops Classic in New York.
"It's the only way you can learn about your team," Calipari said. "You need to play the best in November and December so you can evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. We're taking on all comers and trying to learn about our team, so when we hit our league and the month of March, we know exactly where we are."
The Conference USA is expected to offer more challenges in 2007-08, and Calipari is the first to trumpet the league's improvement.
"The issue is the league was better last year (2006-07) than the year before (2005-06), but we got so much better, that everyone thought the league got worse. Yet, it was better.
"Last year, we had six or seven teams that jumped up around 70 points in the RPI, and our league was 30 RPI points better than the year before. This year, our league is going to have three or four teams in the top 50 RPI."